Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Football: Benson, Georgetown Seniors in a Class of Their Own

Benson, Georgetown Seniors in a Class of Their Own

By Ted Bauer Hoya Staff Writer

Oftentimes, a number is more than just a number.

How do we know this? When does a number like 755, .400, 100, or 82 mean more than merely a quantity? When does an inanimate number have a personality and a story all its own? The long walk towards the office of Football Head Coach Bob Benson begins to answer these questions. In front of his office door, a glance to the right reveals two signs. They are constants during the football season. One sign will always read: “Beat” followed by the name of this Saturday’s foe. The other sign contains the message of the week, epitomizing a program that has risen from obscurity to the upper echelon of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. Often this message is inspirational, such as “Desire Overcomes All Obstacles.” This past week it was simple.

“Nine.”

All it said was nine.

When does a number become more than just a number?

In this case, it does on top of Kehoe Field late tomorrow afternoon, when a whistle is blown. The men on the field have heard it thousands of times before, but Saturday’s whistle will be different. It will be the final one. The football careers of the Georgetown Gridiron Class of 1999 will be over.

If Georgetown beats weaker MAAC foe LaSalle on Saturday, the academic Class of 2000 will have won 33 games since its freshman season. Right now, it is tied with the Class of 1929 at 32 victories over a four-year period. A win would also give the Hoyas their first back-to-back nine-win seasons and the MAAC title, putting an exclamation point on the role of this year’s seniors in rebuilding a once struggling program.

They are 24 young adults who have played alongside each other for four years joined by the common goal of victory. For one final 60 minutes of football, a common goal will unite them:

Number Nine.

Oftentimes, a number means more than just a number.

Four years ago, Benson was emerging from his second year as Georgetown football head coach with a 9-9 career record. He was still a young coach. He had been part of a staff at Johns Hopkins that led the Blue Jays to three consecutive winning seasons following two 1-9 campaigns. He had been defensive coordinator at Worcester Polytechnic and had improved its game. He had proven himself at every level except as a head coach.

Now was Benson’s time to shine.

“I think the sign of any good football program is planned replacement,” Benson said, reflecting over four years of amazing football this past week, “and back in 1995, the coaching staff here knew what we needed to get. We wanted good people who cared about football, but not just football. We wanted our recruits to have the term ‘student-athlete’ high on their list of priorities. In general we just wanted great student athletes.”

Benson went out and began adding several cogs to the machine. He picked up a Northern Virginia resident named J.J. Mont, despite already having Bill Ward (COL ’97) entrenched as the starting quarterback. He added several quality offensive linemen, including Robert Quigley and Kevin Merse. He picked up a speedy New Jersey boy in Jim Gallagher to anchor his defensive backfield. A gritty, all-business defensive end named Paul Miller followed.

“It comes back to planned replacement,” Benson said. “Only a few got a lot of time during freshman year, but we knew all the rest of them were going to play someday. We all knew J.J. would emerge into the kind of quarterback he has become even though we had Ward at starter.”

“In general, though, I really didn’t know it would end up the way it has,” he added.

It is not surprising that Benson was able to build the Class of 1999. To this day, his recruiting process focuses on four elements: the academic record; the athletic ability; the player’s character; and his family. It was important that he acquire only the best, as his ideas about the program were shifting in 1995.

“We added two Patriot League teams to the schedule that year,” Benson said. “We wanted to be an elite team in the MAAC; my goal was to have our name mentioned in the same breath as the top Ivy and Patriot League teams. I think we have accomplished that.”

They have. Since the Class of 1999 first lined up at scrimmage, Georgetown is 27-3 in MAAC contests.

Oftentimes, numbers mean more than just numbers.

They mean dominance.

But this dominance could

not have been established without Benson. Every vital player among the Class of 1999 noted Benson’s approach as a major reason for attending Georgetown.

“Coach Benson is just a tremendous individual,” said fifth-year senior strong safety and captain Brian Dwyer. “I consider him a friend for life.”

“Coach Benson dedicates his life to football,” Gallagher said. “I think some of the guys on this team can relate to that attitude.”

“Benson is a down to earth guy who does not beat around the bush,” Miller said. “Everything that this program has accomplished over these last few years, we owe to Coach Benson. He has even made the guys on the team closer.”

Benson is not as quick to praise his role in the rebuilding process. As he sits down on the couch in his office and flips through the team’s media guide, remembering moments from games over the past seven years of his life here, he stops speaking briefly. A realization sets in.

“I hope that when people look at me as a coach, or try to evaluate me as a coach, the first thing they say is that I can deal with and relate to my players,” Benson said. “This has been a wonderful class of guys, and they have made it easy. All I know is that you need to relate to your players, and that it takes players to win football games.”

Winning football games has been routine for Benson over the past four seasons.

But several of those 27 victories stand out in his mind. As he reminisces while flipping through the media guide’s year-by-year breakdown section, the 1996 season comes back to him. He picks out games against Duquesne and Fordham.

It seems odd that Benson would select these games. They are both losses, and blowouts at that, as Fordham downed the Hoyas 46-6 and the Dukes derailed Georgetown 15-0. But they still stand out in his mind. One of the reasons is that Mont’s first snap as a Hoya came against Fordham, when Ward went down to injury.

“That 1996 season was us trying to separate ourselves from [Division] III football totally and make things more challenging,” said Benson. “Even though we had problems in those two games, our team – especially the current seniors – knew that this was where we wanted to be. They knew if they held on a little while longer, they would be in the same class with these guys.”

The 1997 season was proof, as Georgetown won the MAAC Championship while defeating Duquesne for the first time, shellacking them 24-0 in grand fashion. Relics of the old era were still in place for the Hoyas’ 1997 success, most notably Ward at starting quarterback.

The landmark victories began in the second game of the 1998 season, when a 77-yard downfield bomb from Mont to emerging wideout Gharun Hester gave Georgetown a 13-12 victory over Holy Cross, the school’s first defeat of the Crusaders and first against a Patriot League team. It was the first home game with the Class of 1999 making up the majority of the starting line-up. The Georgetown community recognized it, too, turning out over 3,000 strong on the cold September afternoon.

“That game was a turning point for this program,” Benson said. “It was just a landmark game.”

The final battle of 1998, an away game against Fordham, also defines this senior class. Georgetown fell behind 28-0, but eventually ran the score to 42-40 late in the fourth quarter. Despite eventually falling 49-40 to the Rams, it was another change of attitude for Hoya football.

“I think it finally showed our guys we could play with all these AAC and Patriot and Ivy teams if we needed to,” Benson said. “They had faith. It was just a great game and a great show of character. Even though we lost, the attitude established in that game carried over into the 1999 season.”

And so the 1999 season must conclude tomorrow on Kehoe Field. Another class will graduate. But it will be harder on Benson this time.

“To begin to understand the impact that this class had, you have to look at the sheer retention of it,” Benson said. “Twenty-four guys. They have all really enjoyed their time here. They have paved the way for what is to come in Georgetown football. Our program is completely different now. They have changed it. It is a totally different atmosphere. They should feel great about that. I think people respect what we are all about now.”

Professionals certainly do. Gallagher, Mont, Merse and offensive lineman Oliver de la Hoz already have Wall Street jobs lined up for next year, with many players certain to follow.

Benson scans his wall. Team pictures from the 1996 season. These kids were mere freshmen. Who would have thought this could happen? Who would have known?

“I’m gonna miss ’em all,” said Benson. “They are all great guys.”

Bob Benson lives his life day to day.

But tomorrow on Kehoe Field, as the clock ticks down in the fourth quarter, Benson might change just a little bit. He might think forward more than a day. More than the next set of offensive formations on his dry-erase board. More than the next sign in his hallway. He might think forward about 10 years.

“When I look back on this team,” said Benson, his voice choking up just a bit, “I have no doubt that they redefined the ideals of this football team. They made it more than a team. They made it a program. There is a focus and a commitment on the part of all 24 of them to become respected as a football program, and they have done that beyond anyone’s expectations. The atmosphere of Georgetown football is the complete opposite of what it was when these kids walked in the door four years ago. They should all be proud.”

Benson may look forward to understand the meaning of the Class of 1999. He has already glanced backwards and realized all they have done. But he will still live for the moment. He will still live for the final whistle, and for one final on field hug between J.J. Mont and Gharun Hester. One final chest bump between Jim Gallagher and Paul Miller. One final roof-raising by Brian Dwyer.

He will live for Number Nine. Number 33. Georgetown as Number One.

Oftentimes, a number means so much more than just a number.

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